In June I posted some depressing news about how South Korea, thanks to its Ministry of Education and creationist pressure, was set to purge some important examples of evolution from its school biology textbooks. Well, according to Wired Science, it ain’t gonna happen:
As previously reported on Wired.co.uk, pressure group Society for Textbook Revise had managed to persuade textbook publishers to drop sections from their books that discussed the evolution of horses and the Jurassic-era early avian-like dinosaur Archaeopteryx.
Now, however, a special panel convened by the South Korean government has recommended that the publishers ignore the creationists’ arguments — which should mean that textbooks reintroduce the old segments before the start of the next school year.
The argument of the Society for Textbook Revise — an offshoot of the Korea Association for Creation Research — rested on there being debate among evolutionary scientists over whether Archaeopteryx could fly, or glide, or merely had feathers for decoration. This disagreement was extrapolated to cast doubt on the whole evolutionary history of birds.
In response, South Korea’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology set up a panel experts to assess the campaign’s claims. They disagreed that their Archaeopteryx objection was a valid argument, and said it should remain in the textbooks. The campaign group also claimed that a section on the evolution of the horse was too simplistic, which the panel agreed with — but they have merely recommended replacing it with a more thorough explanation, or a new section on the evolution of another animal like the whale.
I don’t know what was in the horse section, but it may have been the old misconception that horses evolved linearly and “progressively” from a small, four toed Hyracotherium ancestor into the big single-toed horses of today. That’s not the way it happened: horse evolution was a branching bush, with some lineages getting smaller after they got larger, or fluctuating erratically in size. There is of course one lineage from small, four-toed, small-toothed horses to big, one-toed, massive-toothed horses, but that’s just one line of descent among many. And many horse lineages went extinct without issue. It would be an improvement to present the story to students in an accurate way, but if the Koreans want to use whales, that’s fine too. Just keep the creationists out of textbook revisions.
To celebrate Korea’s victory for good science, I’ll put up this old but hilarious anti-creationist Doonesbury post. Coincidentally, it was recycled as today’s cartoon on Slate (thanks to several readers for sending it).